Every once in a while Vancouverites are treated to excellent historical restorations. During the process, it is through the old bones of architecture – even though only temporarily exposed – that we’re given glimpses of our city’s past. One great example is the Byrnes Block, which sits on the southwest corner of Maple Tree Square where Water Street meets Carrall Street in Gastown. The main building (and the later addition next door) was originally known as The Alhambra Hotel (in the photo series above, you can see how the rows of chimneys recall the days when each suite in the hotel offered private fireplaces). It was built in 1886 out of the ashes of the Great Fire as one of the city’s first fire-proof buildings. The original architect was Elmer Fisher, who was commissioned by George Byrnes, a wealthy Australian industrialist.
The site is perhaps the famous for housing the location of “Gassy Jack” Deighton’s first saloon, but the Victorian Italianate address was also home to The New Frisco Hotel, clothing store Jelly Beans for Jeans (1970), and Bootlegger Jeans (yes, that Bootlegger). There are even rumours of a Baskin-Robbins’ residency, though the truth of that I could not discern with any authority.
The location had already fallen into desperate disrepair by the 1950’s, so the latter half of the 20th century did not see its best years, which explains the Bootlegger Jeans tenancy. It wasn’t until 2009 that a massive renovation (overseen by the Heatherbrae Group) saw the structure, façade, and fenestrations restored to their former (and current) glory.
As Scout editor Andrew Morrison pointed out when Peckinpah was moving into the corner space in 2010 (see gallery above), plenty of historic gems could still be found inside the walls, including wallpapered Georgia Straight pages and antique bottles. Owners Ryan Murfitt and Tyson Reimer decided to keep most of it, so the next time find yourself in the restaurant munching on BBQ and sipping on bourbon, take a peek downstairs and dig one of Gastown’s most delicious historical time capsules.